Tigers were beaten 26-23 by the top-of-the-table Bears who finished the game pinned on their own tryline.
Tigers had a succession of set-piece penalties just five metres from the tryline in the closing moments as Bristol lost a prop to a yellow card and there had to be a meeting of the officials and management to determine how many players they could have left on the field before the game ended with the defence intact.
Bristol had led 14-6 at half-time with enterprising tries from Semi Radradra and Harry Randall before the biggest cheer of the afternoon – in the first home game played in front of a crowd for 15 months – greeted a score from Hanro Liebenberg and conversion by Johnny McPhillips which put Steve Borthwick’s men in front at 16-14 after the break.
Bears, though, responded with two tries in three minutes as they chased a win that would confirm a home semi-final and stretch their lead at the top of the table.
Tigers fought back again with Julian Montoya steering a forward drive over the tryline to make it 23-26 and set up the finale.